Western Cape shreds 12-million illegal cigarettes

The destruction of R18-million worth of illegal cigarettes confiscated across the Western Cape by government departments including the South African Revenue Service (Sars), South African Police Service and local law enforcement is under way. 

“It’s an important action on the part of the government to protect our local industry, which is negatively affected by the illegal imports,” said Sars spokesperson Anton Fischer. 

With the strict level five lockdown in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the sale of alcohol and cigarettes was banned for months. However, it did not prevent South Africans from consuming alcohol or smoking. In fact it only enabled illegal trade to fill the void. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously provided cover for illicit activities. There’s no denying the fact that anyone who wanted a cigarette or wanted a beer, could get it if they were prepared to pay the higher prices that were being charged during the lockdown restrictions,” Fischer said. 

“Illegal imports and exports are also a source of funding for criminal syndicates,” Fischer said, adding that it “reduces the amount of revenue that Sars collects”.

In a statement on 22 January 2020, Sars said it was estimated that illicit imports of a range of goods results in losses to the fiscus of billions of rands annually. 

Method of destruction

Instead of using the usual method of burying the illegal cigarettes in a secure landfill site where it is then burned and destroyed using toxic chemicals, a new, faster, cost-effective and environmentally friendly method is followed. 

In this specific destruction process, the boxes of illegal cigarettes are first shredded on-site using a truck before the waste is taken to a secure landfill site. Due to the bulk of the goods, the shredding will occur over a period of two days. 

“Incineration may be a bit more expensive than the one [method] that we’re doing now. When we destroy illegal goods we take into consideration various factors. One of them being the cost, location, the method, whether it’s environmentally friendly et cetera,” Fischer said.

But ultimately, Fischer said, it is the message the destruction process conveys that is important – that there is a “zero-tolerance approach by the government towards illegal trade and to sensitise the public about the harm that these goods do to our economy and the health of our people”.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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